Sigmund Freud, the great Grand Daddy of Psychoanalysis, first coined the term “The Madonna/Whore Complex” back in 1925 and used it to describe two archetypal ways that we can view women: either as the virtuous and the saintly with little interest in her own sexual agenda or as the lewd and lascivious, obsessed with sex and open to the act at every available opportunity.
The term has gained popularity across a multitude of disciplines, but in sexual therapy we largely use it to describe those that struggle to maintain sexual arousal in the midst of a committed loving relationship. Men with this condition find themselves lusting after someone who they view as disposable and degradable, available and useful only as tools of their own pleasure. Their primal sexual instinct kicks in and wish to spare their wife or partner, whom they love and respect, from having to view such a side of them and having to tolerate such acts of bestial lust, which, being saintly and pure they would of course repulse from!
As Freud himself said, “The whole sphere of love in such persons remains divided in the two directions personified in art as sacred and profane (or animal) love”. The truth is, every woman is a combination of these two dynamics in varying quantities and to separate these two facets of womanhood is an impossible task.
For many, sex is still linked with guilt and shame. The taboo nature of the subject and how we are generally shielded it from with hushed whispers as children can lead to us viewing our erotic compulsions as a bad thing or inappropriate behavior. It then becomes difficult in adult life to reconcile those desires with their partner whom they have grown to love, cherish and respect and in many cases is now the mother of their children.
This mindset is exemplified in the 1999 film “Analyze This” where in Robert De Niro’s character is asked by his psychiatrist why he insists on doing the things he likes sexually with his mistresses rather than his wife, to which he replies “Hey, that’s the mouth she kisses my kids goodnight with! What are you, crazy?”
As such, men might come to view their wife as an inappropriate sexual partner and the spiral we have seen so many times now of rejection, resentment and increasing animosity is put into play. It is very common in this situation for bother partners to be completely happy with each other apart from this, but as sex remains such a prominent part of our desires and expectation, this can serve for the seed which grows into a host of other problems.
In the worst case scenarios, this can then lead to infidelity on both parties side. Men will seek their “whores” with whom to fulfill their urges and feeling thus rejected women will seek other partners for either emotional or physical release.
So what can be done to help alleviate the symptoms? As with anything, communication is key. You need to keep things fresh and exciting and where ever possible try to catch issues in your relationship at any early stage so they can be dealt with before taking root and growing sharp thorns!
The Madonna/Whore complex is very heavily inspired by Judeo-Christian mythology and as such is wound tightly within Western values that surround us on a daily basis. It can be a challenge to “de-program” oneself from such a system when it seems to be all pervasive and re-enforced via things such as slut shaming and calling out of sexually open celebrities.
It is something we are talking about a lot with our clients here at The London Love School. If you feel that this is affecting you or your relationship then we would be glad to talk more and see if we can help you through your problems.